Pattye Benson

Community Matters

T/E School Board leaves option open for tax Increase — How much more can we afford?

At the same time as the Board of Supervisors organizational meeting last night, the T/E School Board held a special meeting to vote on using allowable exceptions to Act 1 for the 2013-14 budget. By using Act 1 exceptions, provides the School Board the ability to raise taxes above the State index of 1.7%. The School Board voted to apply for the Act 1 exceptions and the preliminary 2013-14 budget should be on the TESD website sometime today. The Board considers the preliminary budget at their regular meeting on January 28.

Due to a conflict with the township’s Board of Supervisors meeting, I was unable to attend TESD meeting. However, Ray Clarke attended the meeting and shared the following comments with me. His remarks suggest a rather strong position and I will be interested to know if others share his sentiments.

The School Board voted its usual 7-2 to publish a 2013/14 budget that includes tax increases of 1.7% from the Index plus another 1.74% from Exceptions. This is preparatory to a vote at the next meeting (Jan 28th) to formally apply for the Exceptions.

There was slightly more than the usual Board commentary that tonight’s vote was “only to keep the options open”, and certainly the numbers would support a moderation in the rate of increase. With a 1.7% increase the projected deficit is $1.3 million – just about equal to the one-time payment due to the teachers, which should absolutely not be built into the tax base.

Not only that, the projection model was positioned without the context of the 2011/12 actuals and 2012/13 forecast, which I have argued here would show an artificially inflated base. Remember the unexpected ~$3 million surplus last year. Also, there is no explicit consideration of the cost saving impact of retirements which have in recent past years saved $800,000 per year.

In addition, the administration did list a number of items that could have a significant budget impact that have yet to be quantified. The majority of the Board wanted more details on these. (I fear that the expense additions will turn out to total more than the subtractions). The more courageous move, advocated eloquently by Dr Brake, would be to have signaled a leadership commitment to manage these opportunities and risks within a modest tax increase that does not continue to load up the property tax base, and to begin a serious dialog with the community about the form we want TE public education to take.

Anyone with an interest in limiting the extent to which their pockets can continue to be picked by this Board should attend the Finance Committee next Monday (7pm).

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  1. Last night’s vote was no surprise although I was encouraged to see 2 members vote against applying for Referendum Exception tax increases. They obviously believe that the District’s financial needs next year can be met with the Act 1 tax increase of 1.7% ($1.5 MM increase).
    Recent District tax increases equal 9.93% over the last three years. Enrollment growth over that time is less than 1% annually. In addition, general economic growth rates/inflation rates do not support recent tax increases at this level. Spending in our District last year was $101 MM (actual) and projected to be $107 MM this year…last night’s estimate for 2013-14 spending is $113.5 MM. This would be a 6% spending increase…actually two years of increases over 6%. Do we really have a “tax/revenue” problem or is the culprit spending? The Board often talks about their $13 MM in spending cuts BUT spending in the District in total has NEVER decreased on a year-over-year basis.
    Spending is totally under the control of the Board with the exception of PSERS contribution and some mandated programming. In the PSERS case, the Board had an accumulated Fund Balance category to address “Future Retirement Plan Rate Stabilization” which totaled $15.3 MM until 7/1/12. On that day the Board elected to re-allocate over $11 MM of that balance to other purposes. Maybe it’s time to consider using some of this accumulated taxpayer money for the purpose for which it is intended? It would obviate the need for most of the Referendum Exception tax increase.
    I’m encouraged to see more private citizens at these meetings. While each has their own reason for coming out, more and more taxpayers are taking a hard look at the District’s tax levying policies and they should…

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